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As Trump Orders Sessions to Go After His Political Foes, Reminder That More Than 500 Children Still Separated From Their Families

A month after court-ordered family reunification deadline, the DOJ—which Trumps think should be chasing down right-wing conspiracy theories—continues to prove itself incapable of putting children back into the arms of their families

A Honduran child plays at the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border with his father on June 21, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

As President Donald Trump started his day by demanding the Department of Justice (DOJ) target his growing list of political enemies, department lawyers admitted in a court-mandated status report that they have still, thus far, failed to return more than 500 children to their parents, a month after the deadline for family reunification passed.

The document was filed in the ACLU's ongoing lawsuit challenging the Trump administration's family separation policy. A total of 528 children, including 23 under the age of five, remain in government-run detention centers around the country, and 343 of those children's parents have been deported.

The government has argued that deported parents have to be reunited with their children outside of the country, eliminating their children's chance to exercise their legal right to asylum in the United States.

Many of the deported parents signed so-called "voluntary departure orders" at the urging of the Trump administration, with the understanding that doing so would allow them to see their children again.

The ACLU has formed a steering committee with groups including Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), Women's Refugee Commission (WRC), and Justice in Motion to assist the government in locating the parents who have been deported, as the DOJ has proven unable and unwilling to find them. Earlier this month, the Trump administration attempted to shift responsibility for the ongoing separation crisis onto the ACLU—a move that was soundly rejected by U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who is overseeing the family separation case.

"All of this is the result of the government's separation, and then inability and failure to track and reunite," Sabraw said. "And for every parent who is not located, there will be a permanently orphaned child, and that is 100 percent the responsibility of the administration."

As ACLU digital communications strategist Amrit Cheng wrote this week, the steering committee's attempts to reunite the families have been made even more difficult by the government's failure to release contact information for the deported parents in a timely manner. The DOJ waited several weeks before turning over parents' phone numbers.

"Thus far, many of the phone numbers have been inoperable," wrote Cheng. "The fact of the matter is that many parents may be in hiding, considering that they have all been deported to countries which they fled in the first place. It certainly doesn’t help that the government may have had this information for more than a month before handing it over to us. ...Every additional day that children wait to be with their parents is damaging—it's simple unacceptable that the government had information that could help reunite them faster but sat on it."

The ACLU is returning to Sabraw's courtroom on Friday to continue their case demanding that the Trump administration do everything in its power to reunite the hundreds of families that remain separated.

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